The British Are Coming
Summary:Phileas Fogg's first encounter with Jules Verne, some ten years before the start of the series.
Disclaimer:Phileas Fogg belongs to Jules Verne first and foremost, and somewhat to Talisman-Crest, Promark, etc. in this incarnation. Everyone else in this story is mine with the exception of Jules Verne. He belongs to History...
Historical Note:This takes place ten years before the beginning of the series. Therefore, it does not feature Rebecca (much), Passepartout, or the Aurora. Since Rebecca and Passepartout are absent, Agent Brenna Blayne ("To Catch a Spy", "The Egyptian Connection") is obliged to make an appearance. Someone has to keep Phileas out of trouble, after all...
Author's Note:This is the 3rd in my series of SAJV stories involving Agent Blayne and her organization and takes place, as mentioned, some 10 years before the start of the series. The next three stories will involve Blayne's first meetings with Jean Passepartout (not quite a year before this story) and Rebecca Fogg (some years after this story). The final story in the arc will take place primarily in the future.
Feedback: Oh, yes, please! Feed me, feed me!!!
Nantes was beautiful this time of year. There were no two ways about that. The air was fresh and crisp, the sunset unrivaled by any painting. And work was going well...
Through the opened window, School-Master Ravenna could hear the sounds of boys playing in the streets below, oblivious to the fact that there parents were so fear-stricken that they could not sleep at night. Of course, they realized that something was amiss. Their friends were vanishing without a trace, so far six in all, but no parents had said the words kidnapping or murder. At least, not in front of the children...
"Jules! You lost it, you get it!" a boy shouted in the street below.
Ravenna leaned out the window, watching. Young Jules Verne darted after the ball as his friends looked on, waiting. As he bent to pick the ball up from the gutter where it had landed, he looked up. Catching sight of his favorite teacher ever, he smiled and waved.
"Want to play?" he asked.
"Not tonight, young Master Jules." Ravenna gave a regretful shrug. "Perhaps another time." Looking around at the other boys, Ravenna added, "Master Pierre! Tuck those shirt-tales in at once!"
The boys laughed as Pierre rushed to comply. Ravenna returned to the desk, picking up an unopened letter. Ravenna's thoughts turned to young Jules Verne. The next target.
Opening the envelope and perusing the letter, Ravenna sighed. "The British are coming... As if my job isn't hard enough already."
"Ah, young Agent Fogg." Sir Boniface looked up from the papers on his desk to the young man standing before him.
"Reporting as ordered, father." He winced and managed to stammer out, "Sir..."
Sir Boniface frowned at him. "Are you ready for your first solo mission?"
Phileas Fogg nodded eagerly. "Yes, sir, Sir Boniface. I'll make you proud."
Sir Boniface frowned more deeply. "Make the Secret Service proud, Agent Fogg."
Phileas nodded, abashed. "Yes, sir. I will, too, sir."
"Well, that remains to be seen." Sir Boniface said mildly, handing Phileas a file.
"Nantes? In France?" Phileas skimmed the file. "I don't understand, sir. How do missing boys in France affect the security of the Crown?"
Sir Boniface scowled. "Never question. Her Highness personally asked us to investigate. These abductions trouble her, and cause her fear for the safety of her own children."
"You can't be serious? Nantes is worlds away from Buckingham..."
"Phileas!" Sir Boniface rose. "Her Highness may well have her own reasons. They are not for us to question. You will learn discretion or you will be dismissed from the Service. Am I understood?"
Phileas bowed his head, more to hide the fact that he was blushing than out of any sense of contrition. "Yes, Sir Boniface."
"Yes, Sir Boniface." Phileas gratefully left the room.
Sir Boniface looked up as a messenger entered through his other door. "Inform the Queen that I have dispatched an Agent to investigate. The matter should be resolved before her visit to Nantes."
"Her Majesty requests to know what you plan on doing if it is not successfully resolved."
Sir Boniface sighed. "Then I will send 50 of my best Agents to protect her son during his visit to the spa. We will close the spa, if needs be, on some pretex or other."
The messenger nodded. "Her Majesty begs you to remember that it must not become public knowledge that her heir is ill."
"I am her most faithful servant."
Rebecca and Erasmus were waiting in the foyer of the Secret Service's headquarters. Rebecca was dressed in riding breeches.
"Sir Boniface would send you to the convent if he saw you in those." Phileas pointed out uneasily.
The girl shrugged. "I'm not going into his office, silly!" she giggled. "Besides, he's been threatening me with the convent for years now." She grinned wickedly. "If he doesn't hurry up, he's going to lose his chance."
"Eighteen is still several years away, Rebecca." Phileas pointed out reasonably.
"Then I'll marry." She rested her hands on her hips.
"You?" Phileas laughed. "I think not!"
Rebecca grinned and scrunched her nose in that way she had. She was, Phileas noted, already most fetching. She could have married well, if not for that independent-streak of hers.
Erasmus was practically jumping up and down. "Did you get it? Your first solo mission?"
Phileas smiled and ruffled his brother's hair. "Of course I did."
"Yay!" Rebecca exclaimed, clapping her hands together and jumping up and down.
Phileas noted another Agent staring disapprovingly at her. "Shall we?" he asked, gesturing towards the door.
"How shall we celebrate?" Rebecca asked, preceding the young men.
"Celebrate?" Phileas asked, surprised. He seriously hadn't considered the matter.
"Let's return to father's house and think of something." Erasmus suggested, climbing into his carriage.
Phileas helped Rebecca into the carriage and then climbed in after her.
"So, what does the mission involve?" Rebecca asked eagerly. "A fell plot to assassinate Her Highness, perhaps?"
"You have a morbid imagination, my dear cousin." Phileas informed her, staring out the window.
"I'd give anything to do what you're about to." Rebecca informed him enviously. "We both would."
"Join the Secret Service." Erasmus suggested.
"Me?" Rebecca sniggered. "Sir Boniface would never let a woman in, let alone me."
"Actually," Phileas observed, "he might consider it a welcomed way to keep you out of mischief."
"Me, mischief?" Rebecca asked, smiling innocently.
When they returned to the town-house, Rebecca ran ahead of them into the sitting-room. Phileas sighed and chased after her. "Sir Boniface will be furious if he finds out that you've been in his sitting-room without..." he trailed off as he looked around the room. It was hung with decorations.
Rebecca giggled and pointed at him. "Gotcha! Oh, Erasmus, did you see the look on his face?"
Erasmus laughed and clapped Phileas on the back. "What ever happened to 'be prepared for anything'?"
"I'm so grateful to Her Highness for sending a man to help us." The Mayor of Nantes led Phileas into his sitting-room, helping him out of his coat with his own hands instead of having a servant do it. He held up a decanter and looked questioningly at Phileas.
"Thank-you, no. I do not drink."
The Mayor nodded and returned the decanter to the table. A young boy peered curiously into the sitting room. Phileas smiled at him. The twinkle in the boy's eye and his total lack of regard for the state of his clothing reminded Phileas of Erasmus. He waved at the boy who immediately ducked out again. Smiling, he turned his attention to the Mayor.
"We think it's gypsies."
Phileas raised on eyebrow. "On what evidence?"
The Mayor looked surprised by the question. "Why, who else could it be?"
"Perhaps someone right here in Nantes."
"No, no." The Mayor shook his head vehemently. "Nantes is not like London or Paris. It's a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. It couldn't have been one of us."
Phileas kept his doubts to himself. "I see... And... these... Gypsies, do they target a specific type of child? Blondes, perhaps? Or little girls?"
The Mayor shook his head. "Only boys, actually. But no one can seem to see any connection between them. They all knew each other, but as I said..."
"Yes, everyone knows everyone else. Of course. May I see your constable?"
"Um, we haven't one." The Mayor shrugged helplessly. "Not much call for one before now. We've a judge. He runs the butcher-shop. There's a lawyer, Monsieur Verne, but he mostly handles financial matters, wills and such."
"Hardly helpful, then." Phileas sighed. "So, there are no connections between the boys."
"There is one..." a low voice said from the door.
Phileas turned around to see a tall young man, not more than 17 or 18 judging by his total lack of facial hair and slender frame. Oddly enough, his head had no hair at all...
"Ah, School-Master Ravenna!" The Mayor smiled. "Surely it is not time to pay you again? Is it Saturday already?"
"No. I heard that there was an Englishman gracing our fair town. Such a rare site I had to see for myself." Ravenna gave a cynical smile.
Phileas smiled warmly. "A pleasure, Monsieur Ravenna."
"Blayne. Phileas Fogg of London."
"A pleasure." Blayne bowed. "Buy you a drink?"
"Yes, please. Perhaps we can talk?"
"If you wish to."
In the local tavern, Blayne was obviously well-known. The inn-keeper immediately hurried over with a bottle of scotch.
"You're here about the boys?" Blayne asked in perfect English.
"That obvious, is it?" Phileas bowed his head.
"Outsiders tend to leave an impression around here." Blayne poured a glass of scotch. "Are you a Bobby?"
"No. Her Majesty's Secret Service."
"Very interesting." Blayne extended the glass to Phileas.
"Thank-you, no. I don't drink."
"You will." Blayne muttered, draining the glass.
"I beg your pardon?" Phileas raised an eyebrow.
Blayne refilled the glass. "They all start out the same way. Young and idealistic. And non-drinkers. After a while, they get old and bitter and drink quite a lot. You'll see."
Phileas shifted uncomfortably under Blayne's intense gaze. "You were saying that there was a connection between the boys?"
Blayne nodded. "A rather obvious one, in fact. You'd have found it yourself after a few days of investigation."
"Well, thank you for saving me the time, Blayne."
Blayne regarded him. "Am I?"
Blayne smiled faintly. "I'm teasing. I'm like that..." Blayne stared at the scotch for a minute. "Each of the boys scored perfect marks at school."
"'That's all?'" Blayne stared mockingly at Phileas. "Not many boys do in my classes. In fact, there are only... seven, I think. Yes. Seven boys."
"And only six boys missing?"
Blayne nodded. "If you'll excuse me, I've a lot of work to do."
Phileas watched Blayne go. Something was subtly off in the manner of the School-Master. He could not quite place it, though. That talk about being old and cynical was surely odd for such a young man, but there was more to it than that. Sighing, he returned to the mayor's house. Lost in thought, he nearly tripped over a young boy who was crouched in the middle of the street with a small magnifying glass in his hand.
"I say! Are you hurt?" he asked, concerned.
The boy looked up, startled and a little wary of the stranger. "No, sir."
"What do you have there?" Phileas asked, smiling.
"A neat rock I found, sir." The boy held it out for Phileas to examine. "It's got a fossil in it."
"So it does." Phileas smiled at him. "Where did you get that magnifying glass?"
"I made it, sir. Out of an old pair of my father's spectacles."
"Clever." Phileas smiled at him. "You must be a good student, then?"
The boy nodded shyly. "Master Ravenna says so."
"Ah, your School-Master. Decent chap, is he?"
"Oh, yes, sir." The boy nodded eagerly, warming to the subject. "He knows every one of us, and not just our names. And he plays with us sometimes, too, and takes us on field-trips. He's taking me fossil-hunting next week."
"I see." Phileas smiled, but felt uneasy. "Tell me something, son."
"If I can, sir."
"How many perfect students are there in your class?"
"Eight, sir." He frowned anxiously. "Only two now, though. The others are... gone." He looked sadly up at Phileas. "Am I next, sir? Are the Gypsies going to take me away, too, sir? Are they going to take Pierre?"
Phileas shook his head firmly. "Not if I can help it, son." He grinned at the boy. "What's your name?"
"Jules, sir. Jules Verne."
Phileas smiled. "Well, Jules Verne, that is a most remarkable specimen in your hand there. I will give you..." he reached into his pocket and felt around. "Half a Louie for it."
The boy stared at him with wide eyes. "Really?"
Phileas nodded gravely and held the coin up.
"I already have one like it at home, so I guess you can have this one." He extended the fossil to Phileas, who accepted it and gravely placed the coin in the boy's hand.
"This is more than I've ever had before." The boy smiled, obviously excited at the prospect of having so much money to spend any way he wanted to. His smiled suddenly grew wider. "I'll save it for University!" he announced triumphantly.
Phileas raised an eyebrow. "University? What will you study? Geology?"
He smiled, then frowned and shook his head. "Father wants me to study law."
Phileas frowned sympathetically. "Study whatever you chose. Never let grownups live your life for you." He placed a crown into the boy's hand. He turned to walk away, leaving the stunned boy standing like a statue. He paused and turned back. "Where can I find this Pierre?"
"He's the Mayor's son." Jules managed.
"Good lad." Phileas smiled.
"Are you the police-man?"
"I'm something of that sort, yes."
The boy grinned. "Wow! Wait'll I tell the others!" He scampered off.
Phileas sighed and returned to the Mayor's house. He relayed Blayne's observation to the Mayor, leaving out the lapse of memory as to the number of students with perfect marks. The Mayor turned quite pale and immediately ordered guards to stand watch over his son. He then led Phileas to the guest-room to refresh himself before supper.
Phileas awoke with a start. There was shouting all around, but he could clearly hear a woman's shriek. He jumped out of bed and hastily pulled on a dressing-gown as he hurried towards the sound. He burst into the sitting-room.
"Oh, good, there you are!" The Mayor said, leaving his sobbing wife. "The unthinkable has happened!"
"Oh, not again!" Phileas sighed. "When?"
"I'm not sure. My wife was sleepless and was, as is her habit, wandering the house when she noticed a draft coming from Pierre's room. She went in to close the window and the guards were on the floor, unconscious. And Pierre was--"
"Gone!" the woman shrieked. She was trembling horribly, and looked ready to faint.
"Please, Madame, calm yourself." Phileas said, hurrying over to her. "I promise you that I will bring your son back to you."
He fled the room and returned to his own, dressing swiftly. He pocketed his pistol, still uncomfortably heavy after only a few months with the Service, and quietly quit the house. He grabbed a passing man's arm.
"Kindly tell me where I might find School-Master Ravenna?"
"That house on the outskirts of town."
"Thank you." Phileas took off at a run, clenching his fists.